Marinating Poultry

Marinating poultry, such as chicken or turkey, is a good way to improve its flavor and tenderness. Marinating poultry is easy and foolproof if you follow a few basic guidelines.

  • Marinades that contain acids, salt or alcohol will chemically "cook" or denature the meat as it marinates. In poultry this can leave the meat grayish and stringy.
  • Poultry is very receptive to powerfully flavored marinades, perhaps more so than is meat. These marinades often contain acids, salt or alcohol, so be sure to carefully monitor the amount of time the poultry marinates.
  • Another reason poultry marinades often contain salt, acid or alcohol is that poultry is more susceptible to bacterial contamination than other foods, and these ingredients, especially acid, help retard bacterial growth.
  1. Before you marinate the poultry, trim it so that it's ready to be cooked.
  2. Remove the skin now if you don't intend to eat it. Although leaving the skin on will protect the meat during cooking, it also will prevent the marinade from reaching the meat.
  3. Prepare your marinade according to its recipe. While you do so, check whether the recipe contains an acid (such as lemon juice, wine or vinegar), salt or alcohol. All these ingredients will shorten the time food will marinate.
  4. Use smaller pieces of meat if the marinade contains any of these. For example, pound chicken breasts flat before marinating. Smaller pieces allow more marinade to soak in in a shorter amount of time.
  5. Place poultry and marinade in a nonreactive container; cover. Never use aluminum or cast iron to marinate in. Glass or ceramic works well, but the best container is a sealable plastic bag. These can be turned to allow the marinate to cover all surfaces and can be discarded after use.
  6. Place the container in the refrigerator, on the bottom so that any drips don't contaminate other foods. Never marinate poultry unrefrigerated.
  7. Discard the marinade when ready to cook. Never, under any circumstances, should you reuse a poultry marinade.

Remember that poultry stored in a marinade is still raw food and should be treated as such. Make sure to carefully clean everything the poultry or the used marinade has touched, wash your hands well after handling them. Once the food is cooked, be sure not to let it touch any uncleaned surface it touched when raw.

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